Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:
January 27, 2024 | 17 Shvat 5784
Torah: Exodus 13:17–17:16 Triennial: Exodus 14:15–16:10
Haftarah: Judges 4:4–5:31
“A giant once lived in that body. But Matt Brady got lost. Because he was looking for G-d too high up and too far away.”
― Jerome Lawrence,
Everything is Illuminated
Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein
Insights from Hassidut
Here is this week’s D’var Torah:
Tools of War
In this parashah, we win. We beat them. It’s over and they are never going to oppress us again. Everything that we’ve gone through led to this moment. All that we suffered, all of our losses and all of our pain, allowed us to get here. We had been caught in a terrible cycle. Each time, after each plague, we thought we were free, we thought we were safe, and then Pharaoh refused to let us go in peace again. He refused to let all of us go, women and children, old and young, sons and daughters. So God struck again. And we all suffered, again and again.
God has seen our suffering. God knows that the path ahead of us is not easy. God chooses not to lead us (NaHam) on the quickest route to our destination lest we regret (yiNaHeM) our choice to leave Egypt when we first see war. The quickest route is heavily fortified with Egyptians. To go along that route would be to invite the Egyptians to attack us. Yet even as God worries at our battle-readiness, even as God takes steps to spare us from having to fight this war, we are ready for it. Our first choice as free people is to depart hamushim, in battle array. As the medieval commentator Ibn Ezra notes, we chose to go out not as slaves fleeing1 but rather with our hands raised up, holding the tools of war. The ability to defend ourselves against Pharaoh is the thing that makes us free.
We go out with a high hand, with tools of war. But it is horrifying and heartbreaking to defend ourselves. The price of self-defense is more tragedy. Even when winning, self-defense means our own die, means we suffer unbearable loss. We cry out to Moses: “Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness?” We’ve got the tools to fight but we are still stuck in that terrible cycle in our minds. We cannot see the point of fighting against Pharaoh. We cannot imagine that we will ever truly defeat him, that this war will ever end. To fight just seems to invite more suffering.
God understands us. We’ve had enough. We have no more to give, no more children to lose. Even with the tools in our hands, we cannot fight this battle. We need a break. So God fights it for us. And God does not just fight this battle, God makes sure that we will never again have to battle against Pharaoh. God destroys Pharaoh’s ability to fight. Never again will we suffer under Pharaoh’s hands. We are free from Pharaoh, free from that cycle of violence.
But we are not free from defending ourselves. We’ve scarcely finished celebrating our victory and arranging for life during peacetime, with food in the form of manna and rest in the form of Shabbat, when we are attacked again. This time, we can do it. We’ve watched God wage war. We’ve seen how God hurls horse and rider into the sea. We’ve learned how to wage war, turned it into a song of war to teach to our children. When Amelek comes, we fight back. We go into the field to wage war even as Moses goes to the mountain top to lead the war with God’s help. We are free to fight and able to do it.
But just as was the case with Pharaoh, so too with Amalek. Even though we fight the battle, it is God who can end the war. God vows to wipe out the name of Amalek from under the heavens. Until God does, we will continue the fight. We will fight Amalek over and over again, losing our friends and neighbors, sons and daughters, to him. We will create moments of peace from his onslaughts. We have the tools of war and the freedom to fight. And we have the freedom to cry out to God to make good on his promise, to bring an end to Amalek just as he brought an end to Pharaoh. We have the freedom to demand from God a time of Shabbat and manna instead of battle arrays and tools of war.